- Adam Humphrey American-Statesman Staff
Austin is full of interesting places to visit and things to do. The city hosts tourists throughout the year for events like South by Southwest and Formula One at Circuit of the Americas. Whether tourists are in town for one of these major events or just looking to relax, they owe it to themselves to see some of what makes Austin so uniquely great. This list offers a sample of the local attractions that offer great ways to spend time in the city. Take a look and see if there is something that interests you.
For over a century, the Paramount Theatre has entertained Austinites with movie screenings and live performances across all genres. The Paramount has hosted numerous movie world premieres (“Batman,” for instance), and it draws many big names to its stage each year. Popular festivals such as South by Southwest, the Austin Film Festival and the Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival bring films and entertainers from around the world to the Paramount. With such a wide variety of shows, there is bound to be something you’ll want to see.
Where it is: 713 Congress Avenue
When it's open: See the Paramount’s schedule
How much it costs: Varies based on ticket price
If you’re looking to cool off during a hot summer day, or make a splash for the new year, you’ll want to check out Barton Springs Pool. The three-acre natural spring-fed pool hovers around 68 to 70 degrees throughout the year. Unlike many pools, Barton Springs offers swim-at-your-own-risk times early and late in the day. If you go early in the day, there’s a slim chance you might catch a glimpse of the Barton Springs salamander, an endangered species native to the Edwards Aquifer. Whenever you decide to swim, you’ll be hard pressed to find a swimming hole in Austin better than Barton Springs.
Where it is: 2201 Barton Springs Road
When it's open:
- 5 a.m. - 8 a.m. (Free swin, no lifeguards)
- 8 a.m. - 9 p.m.
- 9 p.m. - 10 p.m. (Free swim, no lifeguards)
How much it costs: Resident fee (Non-resident fee)
- 80 years or older: Free (Free)
- 62-years-old to 79-years-old: $1 ($4)
- 18-years-old to 61-years-old: $3 ($8)
- 12-years-old to 17-years-old: $2 ($4)
- 1-year-old to 11-years-old: $1 ($3)
- Under 1-year-old: Free (Free)
Zilker Park sits just across the river from the city’s downtown district. The park features sprawling green spaces, volleyball courts, an outdoor theater, botanical garden, the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden, a train for the kids (called the Zilker Zephyr), and of course the aforementioned Barton Springs pool. There is so much to do in the park that you might want to consult the city’s map or this list of hidden Zilker Park treasures.
Many events take place in Zilker throughout the year, from the massive Austin City Limits Music Festival and Blues on the Green concert series to smaller-scale summer theater performances. When there isn’t something happening on the grounds, the park is a perfect place to go spend a lazy evening with friends or pets.
Where it is: 2100 Barton Springs Road
When it's open: 5 a.m. - 10 p.m.
How much it costs: Free
What started as a goat ranch in 1990 has grown into a full fledged zoo, which takes care of animals in need of rescue or rehabilitation. The zoo now houses over 300 animals from over 100 species within its 15 acres. In addition to seeing the zoo’s animals, the zoo provides talks from various zoo keepers throughout the day and a 20-minute train ride to see the off-display animals.
The zoo is located in southwest Travis county, about a 25 minute drive from downtown Austin.
Where it is: 10808 Rawhide Trail
When it's open:
- Regular hours: 9:30 a.m. - 6 p.m. (Admission ends at 5 p.m.)
- Winter hours: 9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. (Admission ends at 4:30 p.m.)
How much it costs:
- Adults: $11
- Students: $10
- Seniors: $10
- Military: $10
- Children (age 2 to 12): $8
- Member guests: $6
McKinney Falls State Park
McKinney Falls State Park lies within Austin’s city limits, just 13 miles from the state Capitol. The park has all of the features one would expect: camping, hiking, biking and swimming. Park-goers are free to fish in Onion Creek, even without a state fishing license.
Each of the 81 campsites in the park come equipped with water and electrical hookups. The park also has six cabins available for rental. During the week campsites are generally easily available as long as there isn’t a special event going on. For Friday and Saturday campers, the park’s front office recommends making a reservation around six to eight weeks ahead of time.
Where it is: 5808 McKinney Falls Parkway
When it’s open: Gate open 8 a.m. - 10 p.m.
How much it costs: Adults (12 & up) $6 daily
The zoo isn’t the only place you can find exotic animals in Austin. The Austin Aquarium opened its doors at the end of 2013 and houses over 8,000 animals, according to their website. The aquarium features 35 exhibits in which inquisitive guests can touch, feed and watch a variety of amphibians and watery creatures.
In addition to the underwater exhibits one would expect in an aquarium, the Austin Aquarium also boasts a rainforest area which houses tropical birds (think toucans) and many amphibians. For those looking to learn, the aquarium also hosts educational talks each week about particular animals that live within its walls.
Where it is: 13530 U.S. 183 #101
When it's open:
- Sunday - Thursday: 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
- Friday - Saturday: 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
How much it costs: Online ticket price (In-person ticket price)
- Senior (age 55 and up): $9.95 ($12.95)
- Adult (age 12 to 54): $11.95 ($14.95)
- Children (age 2 to 11): $6.95 ($9.95)
Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake has been at the center of Austin since the 1960s, when the creation of the Longhorn Dam caused the Colorado River to build up near Austin’s downtown. Nowadays the lake is full of kayakers, paddleboarders and boats (at least when the lake isn’t flooded). Kayaks and paddleboards can be rented from several spots around the lake by the hour or for a flat full-day price. Prices vary from place to place, but the general rental price range is between $10 to $15 per hour for a kayak and between $15 to $20 per hour for a paddleboard. If you venture onto the lake, be sure to follow these safety guidelines to have a good time.
If water isn’t your thing, fear not. The lake is surrounded by a beautiful trail perfect for a walk, run, or bike ride. A full trail is 10.15 miles long, but there are many smaller circuits throughout. There are many points of entry, as well as water fountains and lush greenery that provides shade from the tough Texas heat.
Where it is: The lake is located alongside downtown Austin
When it’s open: Sunrise to sunset
How much it costs: Rental prices vary
Mount Bonnell & Pennybacker Bridge
Of all the picturesque spots in Austin, Mount Bonnell and the Pennybacker bridge overlook are quite possibly the most well known. Both require a little hiking to get the best view, but it is absolutely worth the trek. Each spot provides a breathtaking view of the rolling hill country, calm Colorado River and constantly rising downtown skyline. Just be sure to soak in the sights before curfew. These spots are perfect for couples. Bring a picnic basket, maybe some of your favorite drink, and relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
When it’s open: Mount Bonnell: 5 a.m. - 10 p.m.
How much it costs: Free
Bass Concert Hall
Since 1981, the Bass Concert Hall has been Austin’s home for broadway performances as well as concerts and talks. The concert hall is located on the University of Texas campus, across the street from the football stadium, and is the largest venue for Texas Performing Arts. Performers like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Tony Bennett have taken the concert hall stage, as well as many broadway shows like The Sound of Music and The Book of Mormon. A wide variety of ticketing options are available, from single show tickets to full season subscriptions. Regardless of whichever option you pick, you’re bound to be impressed by the talent that takes the stage.
Where it is: 2350 Robert Dedman Drive
When it’s open: Depends on showtime
How much it costs: Varies ticket to ticket
LBJ Presidential Library
Dedicated in 1971, the LBJ Presidential Library holds actual tons of historical materials detailing the president’s time in office. The library maintains several permanent exhibits and puts together additional exhibits exploring the journeys and actions taken by LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson. Thousands of the Johnson family’s personal items, including Oval Office furniture and the clothes worn during the 1964 inauguration, live within the library’s walls. Whether you want to learn about LBJ’s presidency, or attend an event hosted by the library, you will not be disappointed.
Where it is: 2313 Red River Street
When it’s open: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
How much it costs:
- Seniors (age 62 and up): $5
- Retired military (with ID): $5
- Adults: $8
- College students (with ID): $3
- Children (age 13 to 17): $3
Congress Avenue Bats
Up to 1.5 million bats fly out from underneath Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge at dusk each day from April until October. Thousands of tourists come to Austin to see the thick spiraling columns of bats enter the night sky in search of bugs to eat. There are several places to watch the bats, the most popular being the Congress Avenue Bridge, or the Statesman Bat Observatory Center.
Before or after the bats come out, be sure to visit one of the fine eating establishments in the area. The bats are going out the eat, why not do the same?
Where it is: Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge
When it happens: Around dusk
How much it costs: Free